The most original and interesting new political organisation to have developed out of the UK's fledgling networked-empowered protest movement (that we have now begun to debate) is UK Uncut. Alan Finlayson wrote a widely read assessment of its philosophical significance in December and its flash mobs are covered in a section of Fight Back!. As the TUC demonstrated in massive numbers in Hyde Park UKUncut staged the peaceful occupation of the up-market food emporium in Piccadilly described below by Adam Ramsay, cross pasted with thanks from Bright Green. It is very striking that while many of the easy to identify 'Black Bloc' described by Ryan Gallagher in his gripping account below were left to do their worse, non-violent UKUncut activists were systematically arrested and have had their phones appropriated for data-mining and data intimidation (we know who you are and we know who your friends are).
Yesterday, I was arrested outside Fortnum & Mason after the UK Uncut protest on suspicion of Aggravated Trespass and Criminal Damage. Below is a summary of my experiences of the arrest and of being held. But before I write it, I want to be clear – I am not asking for sympathy and I am not the victim here. A day and night in a police cell is nothing to the impact of these cuts.
When we were inside Fortnum & Mason, the police made it clear to us: if we left, we would not be arrested. At 6pm or so, we left, together. The police kettled us outside the shop. I was towards the back, and so could not see exactly what was going on, though I could see in front of me people who had left about an hour earlier, having been let out by the police.
It then became clear that they were, one after another, leading people away to be arrested. So, we shared notes on what this was likely to involve, and sang songs to keep people cheery.
Eventually, it was my turn. I was placed in handcuffs, asked on camera for some basic details, then led down a side street by my arresting officers – one of whom later turned out to be a part time officer, full time German language student. I was told why I had been arrested (suspicion of trespass and criminal damage) and was asked a few basic questions & told we were in for a long night as they struggled to find enough places in stations to fit us all. Others who’d been arrested were in front and behind, and so we shared friendly banter in the street while we waited to be led away.
After about 30 minutes or so I was placed in between my two officers in the back of a people carrier, with another arrestee in between their officers in the row in front. I imposed friendly banter on the police as they drove us around London for the next two hours, and, to be fair, most of them responded in kind. I even had a good chat with one of the officers, who reckoned that most in the police force basically agreed with our points, though he didn’t quite accept my arguments about the multiplier effect. Otherwise, he played “Tap Zoo” on his phone, and listed various PCSOs who he and his colleagues thought were bad at their jobs.
Once at Ilford police station, they led us into a room called “the cage” where we met a handful of others who had also been arrested outside Fortnum & Mason’s. I waited there for an hour or two as the others were led off ahead of me to be processed. Again, I maintained friendly banter with the officers, who were by this point, pretty exhausted. Once the others were gone, though, an older policeman told me that being arrested “isn’t fun” (I do realise). “You ever planning on going to America?” “Want to get a job?” (er, I’ve got one I like, thanks) “well, if you want to go down this path…” He clearly didn’t appreciate the chat.
Then, my turn. The Sergeant at the station asked various questions – my home address, my date of birth, where I was born, whether I had a history of mental health problems, etc, etc, etc. They also told me I had a right to a phone call (though they never offered it to me). They took photos, and all of my stuff, and sent me to a cell to change out of my clothes and into a set of plastic overalls. They then led me to have my fingerprints and palmprints taken, and returned me to my cell with a tray of lasagna.
Throughout the night, we heard the various noises you’d expect in police cells on a Saturday – a guy shouting for hours from down the corridor: “If you fucking hate me so much, why don’t you just fucking kill me”; “why don’t you just put a bullet between my eyes” etc. He was later taken to have a shower and wash “the skidmarks” from his boxers.
Hours later, once the sunlight pushed through the bottle-glass – 2 inch panes held in concrete – someone eventually pulled up the small flap on my door and asked if I wanted breakfast: “yes please”.
I spent most of the morning drifting between sleep and boredom and hunger and the gentle headache of a caffeine addict. My breakfast and coffee never arrived. The duty sergeant had allowed me to take, for entertainment, a 1×2 inch copy of ‘my rights in the EU’ that I keep in my wallet. I read this. Twice. I pranced around my cell. I even did sit ups and press ups for the first time in a decade.
Then, eventually, an inspector arrived to interview me. I asked him the time: 2:30. “Can I have some food please,” “What, you’ve not had anything all day?”. He told me that he had been traveling all round London, and had to secure a decision about what would happen to us but hoped to get me out of there as fast as he could – apart from anything else, so he could finish his shift. My food arrived about half an hour later, along with a coffee. The cup was amusingly emblazoned with “Kenco” – never miss a chance to advertise.
Around 4.30pm, the inspector came and took me out of my cell to be charged. In the middle, the solicitors I had requested rang, and reminded me not to give any comment. I was charged with aggravated trespass, criminal damage charges had been dropped. Our date in court is in early May, and until then, I’ve been banned from the City of Westminster.
A few of the bits of stuff I had arrived with were returned to me – my wallet and some food. But, as they had indicated the previous night, not my phone, not my clothes or shoes. These are likely to be kept for months, I’m told. I was given a pair of plimsolls, and released into the public reception of the police station, where someone else arrested outside Fortnum & Mason’s waited. We took it in turns to ring legal monitors and our families, and to buy food for each other as the other 4 who had been taken to our station dripped out in their plastic jump suits. Once the six of us were out, we set off together, to start our journeys home, sharing stories and complaining about our lost phones and our lost clothes and our lost day.
I got back to the house of the friends I’m staying with a couple of hours ago, warmed by supportive messages from Twitterers and friends. It seems that everyone arrested alongside me has been released, and been given the same charge – I do hope everyone is OK.
Cross-posted from Bright Green